WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR, 1967
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Zina Bethune, Anne Collette, Harry Northup, Lennard Kuras, Michael Scala, Robert Uricola
Review by Vinny Borocci
Three young men living on the New York City streets engage in trivial violence and unproductive activities. They enjoy hanging out at bars, watching movies, having parties, etc. Suddenly, one of the men, J.R., meets a girl and begins to have a relationship with her. The other men are skeptical not only because of J.R.’s unusual changes in his behavior, but the amount of time spent with her as opposed to hanging out with them. J.R. feels the pressure from both his friends and the girl. In the process, the strains become too much for J.R. to handle, where hostility and a sense of aggression result, along with making some very poor judgments. As a raised devout catholic, J.R. feels the only one to turn to is God.
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During the 1960’s, Americans spent much time engaging in street protests, focusing on topics such as feminism and gay rights, events such as various political assassinations and anti-war messages, along with numerous public outbursts against racial and sexual intolerance. In other words, the Vietnam War came knocking on everyone’s doorstep. Fittingly, during this time, director Martin Scorsese provided the audience with his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, which remarkably took almost 6 years to complete. During this public outcry and chaos, we see in this film Scorsese provide many delicate and subtle references which not only reveal his own views on the war, but specifically reflects the attitudes of the “student movement” taking place.
Even though the film has a look of a student film – the opening sequence is of a simple match-action sequence of a mother baking bread for children – we can clearly see his first utilizations with the camera to capture various shots in a very original and unique method. We can see his influence from the French New Wave as he includes various jump-cut shots and freeze frames, while also displaying his childhood love for Italian Neorealism films through the morality of his images, capturing closeup shots of assorted Christ-like images and statues, emphasizing the blood, scrapes, and cuts on the figures to reinforce the violence and suffering of the human condition. Despite his “European” visual style, Scorsese incorporates American rock music throughout the film, serving as a function to link the youth movement of the 1960’s.
‘Who’s That Knocking’ follows a trio of young men: J.R., Joey, and Sally “Ga-Ga.” The three spend time hanging out on the rugged streets of New York, getting into fights, lounging in bars, picking up girls, fooling around at each other’s apartments. While we see these men engage in their everyday pleasures, we also see J.R. begin to have a relationship with a woman. Scorsese was not shy about exposing his own unique direction and style, moving away from the traditional Hollywood Studio system. For instance, in the beginning of the film, we see J.R. hanging out at a bar with the other men juxtaposed with his first encounter with the woman. This contrast in scenes, showing men sitting around doing nothing productive, with images of beautiful women can serve as a representation of the attitude of young men who were on the verge of leaving for Vietnam.
|As we see J.R. slip into deep thought, we see Scorsese blend a parallel of scenes involving the interactions between J.R. and the girl and J.R. sitting at a bar with his friends, cleverly suggesting that while J.R. is hanging out with his friends, he still cannot get this woman out of his mind. When Joey tries to get J.R.’s attention, we see a point of view shot from J.R. looking not at Joey’s face, but of his lower body, indicating that J.R. still has something else on his mind. Continuing his European style, Scorsese utilizes a similar element of the French New Wave as he expresses his youthful love for Hollywood, making specific references and even including images (through freeze frames and snap shots) of John Wayne films.|
Clearly, these three men do not have jobs, and have no intentions in pursuing anything work-related. We see J.R. get upset with the woman when she continues to ask what he does. After he replies, “I’m in between jobs right now,” she does not seem to get the message and obliviously continues to ask, “Well, what do you do now?” Scorsese presents these men as highly uneducated with a lack of understanding for human and personal relationships and interactions. As J.R. and the woman continue to see each other, the only conversations taking place is about John Wayne movies (or actually going to see a John Wayne movie). Additionally, we can see J.R. and the woman hold different religious values. In the scene at the apartment of J.R.’s mother, as we see closeup images of the Catholic images of Christ and Holy Candles spread out on dressers, the two lie in bed making love. While the woman, who does not appear to hold any religious concerns, wanting to go further, does not understand when J.R. suddenly stops. Asking, “What’s wrong?” the woman thinks there is something wrong in how J.R. thinks of her, instead of understanding how J.R. was raised as a devout Catholic.